King's Evangelical Divinity School

6 January 2010

Should a Christian Appear on Press TV?

Since its launch in 2007 a number of Christians have appeared on Press TV, including one I chatted with some time later who appeared a little embarrassed for having done so. Why, exactly? Well, especially since the Iranian elections there has been a flurry of allegations by various commentators in the media and elsewhere concerning the channel’s agenda and methods, while it seems a number of politicians, analysts and experts wishing to be taken seriously are increasingly doubtful about the wisdom of appearing on Press TV. Thus, in light of these perceptions of the channel and what it represents, the question of whether or not a Christian should appear on Press TV is an important one for believers contemplating how best to engage with the public square.

But first some background on Press TV, which is a 24-hour, English-language, Iranian news and current affairs channel set up by Tehran with the express aim of promoting the regime’s perspective. As such, accusations of bias, selective reporting, even misrepresentation, abound. In its broadcasting Press TV has little time for the US and Western governments, though much of its vitriol is especially reserved for Tehran’s nemesis, Israel and international Zionism (whatever that is), while the channel has also been accused of anti-Semitism. Moreover, several of its presenters include British politicians on the hard left, for example, George Galloway and Jeremy Corbyn, who are deeply critical of Western governments and Israel. Further comment on Press TV can be found in a piece by The Times and The Independent columnist Dominic Lawson, who publishes a comment on the channel in the The Times newspaper here, while Jeremy Paxman on the BBC’s Newsnight interviews a Press spokesman here (the bit I enjoyed the most is about 5 minutes in, when the Press TV guy challenges a fellow guest to provide him examples of propaganda on the channel, whereupon the other guest, much to the chagrin of the channel’s representative who somehow thought he had caught out his opponent, begins to list example after example in a staccato monotone).

Anyway, getting back to the original question, should a Christian appear on Press TV? (I mean, of course, specifically appearing as a presenter or guest invited to comment in a particular programme or debate, rather than being asked an impromptu question by a journalist in the street.) I believe Christians should not appear on the channel at all, for several reasons. First, Press TV (set up and financed by Iran) is quite clearly a mouthpiece of a brutal regime which has exported terrorism to various countries, brutally suppresses peaceful opposition protests in its own streets, has repeatedly called for the annihilation of another country, and significantly from a Christian perspective, has brutally persecuted Christians (there are various documented cases, including executions for converting from Islam to Christianity). I suggest, then, that appearing on a channel aimed at portraying Tehran in a positive light, as well as promoting the regime’s agenda and values, merely serves to lend the regime credibility and legitimacy.

Some may well argue that if Christians don’t appear on the channel, then their point will go unmade, so better to argue from within than without. Actually I have some sympathy with this argument, but only to a degree. I am not for one minute suggesting Christians should not engage the public square except through media outlets which are completely unbiased, otherwise they would never appear on anything. But there is a big difference appearing on, say, a news channel like Al Jazeera, which specifically seeks to offer an Arab (and generally Muslim) perspective but which nonetheless also airs various alternative views (including views from Israel, so often denied to everyday Arabs in some autocratic states), and appearing on Press TV which is a financed propaganda instrument of the Iranian regime. “Oh, but Press TV does air various views contrary to Tehran” some will say. Indeed, but I suggest on this particular channel the odds are always stacked against the holders of those alternative views: their positions will be routinely misrepresented or only partially heard, while the debate will be skewed so that Tehran’s view always – always– comes out on top. For those of you who watch the channel, do you ever recall watching a Press TV debate when this was not the case?

This leads to my second reason for suggesting Christians should not appear on the channel. Because Press TV is biased towards the regime’s values and worldview, so that both sides of an argument are not aired appropriately (for example, see this story of Ofcom’s criticism of George Galloway’s one-sided presentation of the Gaza war), how can Christians appearing on Press TV be sure what they say will not also be misrepresented? Or even that just appearing on the channel will not be abused in some way to counter accusations of Iran's persecution of Christians? Just as Dominic Lawson points out in his comment (see above) that British presenters are in danger of becoming Iran’s stooges, isn’t there also a danger of Christians becoming unwitting stooges or pawns in the regime’s greater propaganda battle? I can think of at least one British Christian who, by appearing on Press TV several times, has lost credibility by appearing to  sympathetise with the regime.

Which leads me to my third point. Just as appearing on Press TV helps give credibility to the regime in the eyes of some, conversely it arguably causes considerable damage to the credibility of those Christians appearing on it in the eyes of others. It associates them (albeit unwittingly) with a regime which is anti-West, brutally suppresses opposition in its own country, and calls for Israel's destruction. Besides, how can appearing on a channel which seems to be obsessed with international Zionism and Zionist conspiracies be taken seriously, especially if they are Christians who are there with the express purpose of condemning Christian Zionism?.As the Newsnight video clip above demonstrates, serious journalists are distancing themselves from Press TV for fear of damaging their credibility. Christians might want to consider doing the same.

So what made me bring up this issue? It is not, contrary to what some people may believe (especially in light of my penultimate sentence in that last paragraph), a desire to attack Christians who take a different theological view from me on Israel and have appeared on Press TV to criticise Christian Zionism (though I do find it deeply troubling that some Christians' intense dislike of Israel is such that they will speak against fellow Christians on a channel funded by a regime which maltreats Christians). Rather, this brief comment is a direct response to the hypocrisy of Press TV’s announcements last week promising to expose the “truth” about Israeli war crimes in the Gaza war, this during the very same week both the regime brutally suppressed peaceful protests against Tehran and the channel suppressed the truth about these actions by this regime. In short, if this channel can’t be trusted with this truth why should it be trusted with any other "truth"? Moreover, how can Christians who stand for and preach a message of Truth appear in all good conscience on a channel which blatantly spouts propaganda? I can accept past appearances might have been done in ignorance, but it is quite another thing to continue working with this channel when even journalists and other commentators have become deeply uneasy and are distancing themselves from Press TV. 

This said, Press TV does offer one very important source of information. Not its claims to promote a distinctly Iranian perspective on regional and world issues, of course. The beatings on the streets demonstrate this is far from the case. But Press TV does reflect how the current Iranian regime thinks, providing valuable insight into its mindset and worldview. And after watching it for a little while you’ll see it’s somewhat scary. No need for Western governments to whip up hysteria and scare us about the bogeyman (as the hard left claim)... watching this channel will do it all for them.

Take my poll on Christian responses to the State of Israel. See top-right of this page.


Stuart said...

I would like to cross post this one.

You run an excellent blog. I found you only recently through the Rosh Pina Project and am glad I did so.

Calvin L. Smith said...

Thank you, very kind of you. Yes, please do cross post.

Stuart said...

Thank you Calvin, you are now in my feed reader and I look forward to learning much from you.

James said...

Great post, Calvin, thanks

Calvin L. Smith said...

Thanks. Judging by the spike in traffic it would seems to have attracted interest... or irritation (not too sure right now :)